The current touring version of this Kander & Ebb musical doesn't deliver much in the way of spectacle
Reviewed by Dan Solomon, Fri., Nov. 29, 2013
ChicagoBass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman, UT campus
Chicago is the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. That fact is right on the cover of the program and all of the production's marketing materials. It makes sense as to why: At its best, this Kander and Ebb collaboration is a big-time song-and-dance spectacle, the sort that audiences picture when they hear the word "Broadway." That makes it an ideal fit for the Broadway Across America program at Texas Performing Arts: Theoretically, no local production could match the resources available to the touring version of the show, and the chance to see a big-budget rendition of one of the more ubiquitous musicals ever to hit the Great White Way without booking a trip to New York is pretty appealing.
Unfortunately, this Chicago doesn't really deliver the way that audiences might hope on that "spectacle" scale. The singing is often impressive, yes – though impressive singing is relatively common – and the show boasts a few sincerely remarkable dance performances, though they're somewhat metered and don't occur often enough. But the stage, which is a sparse, black box featuring no sets more complicated than the occasional gold curtain, is dull, and the costumes look like they could have been thrifted the weekend after a sexy Halloween party. None of it looks bad, exactly, but spectacle it's not.
The show – for those who have never seen the long-running production in New York or the Academy Award-winning film based on it – tells the story of Roxie Hart (Anne Horak), a showgirl with big dreams who shoots her lover after she catches him two-timing her and subsequently becomes a celebrity behind bars. In jail, she meets other women who have killed men for similar offenses, from the matronly "Mama" Morton (Carol Woods) to "the Hungarian" (Naomi Kakuk), a woman who speaks no English except the words "not guilty," to her fellow sexy celebrity-murderer, Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod). Morton advises Roxie to hire hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn (Seinfeld's John O'Hurley), and soon both she and Velma are competing for the attention of a press that has time for only one sexy lady who kills.
If all that sounds a bit simplistic, well, it is. This production plays all of that as a broad farce, which blunts any possible emotional impact it could have – when the Hungarian is executed for a crime that she may not have committed, we've spent too much time cringing at the racist depiction of a woman whose pronunciation of "not guilty" is played for laughs to care – and leaves nothing to cling to but the spectacle. And since those elements of Chicago are really not all that spectacular, there's not much to remember about this production at all.